Helping survivors of trafficking flourish

Front desk at Flourish NI, based in Belfast

There are things are sought after in along the Polish-Ukrainian border, food, generators and chainsaws.

“The chainsaws are so they can go out and got some wood for cooking and heating,” Richard Hogg, the director of the concrete engineering company Macrete, spoke about his experiences in delivering much needed supplies to those in need in Ukraine,

“Most small villages don’t have electricity at the minute, they need one small generator per village.”

With a new war in Europe, the director noticed another danger lurking, displaced persons being exploited fleeing war.

“It’s horrific. It’s not just people smuggling but you also have quite a lot of the Ukrainian Mafia, and of course they will come out in a crisis, and they will make it even worse.”

“Refugees are dealing with fleeing the war, but they are also dealing with corruption, and people smuggling,” the director explained.

Any conflict sews the seeds of exploitation, trafficking and trauma, but one Belfast based charity hopes to be a beacon for those affected.

Val Gibson also spoke about the support offered by Flourish -a Belfast based charity aiming to help survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery.

“Whenever somebody is referred to us, we see where the person is at, we see where they might be with their immigration or with their housing. To see that they have everything that’s needed to be established in the community. We take a holistic approach.”

“We see if they need emotional support, or if they need go find community. Some of our clients have deep spiritual beliefs, some might be Muslim or some might be Christian. If they want to get involved in their local church or community, we try to assist with that.”

Val also spoke about the other help that is offered by the charity.

“We help people get into English lessons if they want, we can help people get onto the housing list, help them apply for benefits or find work.”

“We see if they may need referrals to counselling services. We help with everything from birth registrations to getting children registered in school.”

The Flourish case worker also spoke about some signs to look out for if someone is being trafficked.

“They may be afraid to give their address, they may be afraid of authority, they may not have their passport or any documents. They could work extremely long hours without breaks, you may never see them apart from when they are working.”

“Sometimes when people are being trafficked -especially being trafficked together- they may be living on one property which seems quite closed off and private. As well as physical things such as marks on the body.”

In terms of refugees from Ukraine who may be victims of trafficking, Val said that vulnerable people will always be at risk.

“Any refugees coming -and any vulnerable person coming- will be at a higher risk of exploitation”

“They are often targeted by gangs, by traffickers for the purpose of exploiting them. So, it can be a risk for sure,” Val said in the Flourish office.

“We haven’t seen a lot of Ukraine asylum seekers at the moment. We are seeing people from Syria, people from Iran. We get a lot of clients referred to who are from Africa, from Lithuania and a couple more people from Vietnam and China.”

“In relation to the Ukraine, we probably will get more people and more referrals. Aside from the Ukraine and people fleeing from there, there are things going on all over the world.”

But with the help of charities like Flourish, Val has noticed outstanding strength among survivors that she works with.

“I see such amazing resilience among the people I work with,” she said.

“I had a lady who was placed with her baby into a hotel recently. I asked, ‘are you okay?” and she said that ‘it’s been stressful. But I’m okay. I know I’ll be okay’, and I just think that’s amazing.”

Dr Martin Robinson from the School of Psychology at Queen’s university makes note of certain resilience in his research into trauma.  

“It’s good to highlight that some other people are resilient following these stressors.”

“More than 20% of people might be estimated to experience post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, depression or anxiety symptoms.” He said, “but there is a lot of positive coping out there that people are exhibiting.”

“An individual having been resilient, means that they’ve experienced something incredibly stressful, but they have come away and seem to be coping quite well.”

“We focus a lot on trauma and negative outcomes, but statistics tell us that the majority of people cope very well, even in the short, medium and long term, falling from a traumatic event.”

Flourish NI can be contacted 028 9009 8828, and more information can be found on

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Journalism bachelors graduate form the class of 2021. Interested in current affairs and Northern Irish politics and social issues.